HB 293: Undermining Plea in Abeyance
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When an individual commits a relatively minor crime, the courts may offer them a plea in abeyance. If they agree to it, the individual must plead guilty or no contest to their charges, and complete the necessary conditions of the agreement, such as paying associated fines. After a set period of time (up to one year) has passed without a violation of the agreement, the court will dismiss the charges, leaving no conviction on the individual’s record.
A plea and abeyance is an excellent tool that courts can utilize to address first time and low-level offenders. These agreements incentivize good behavior and compliance from offenders while ensuring courts don’t get clogged down from small cases.
A major benefit of the plea and abeyance agreement is that it guarantees that no convictions will be placed on an individual’s record once they have completed the terms of the agreement. House Bill 293 sponsored by Representative LaWanna Shurtliff would change that.
The bill would require that a plea in abeyance be held on an individual’s record as the equivalent of a conviction for ten years for the purpose of future sentencing enhancements. This means that individuals who entered into a plea in abeyance could have judges increase penalties for them, even though the crime was completely unrelated and already eliminated from their record pursuant to the agreement.
This bill completely undermines the essential purpose of a plea in abeyance agreement. These agreements are made in large part, to ensure that the individual does not have a criminal record for a past mistake. In a time of over-criminalization and over-crowding of jails and prisons, it’s essential that Utah identifies ways to reduce sentences rather than lengthen them.